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Made when Antonio Stradivari was 90 years old, the 1734 ‘Willemotte’ bears all his hallmarks including a deep, complex tone quality. Sam Zygmuntowicz examines the violin and compares its design features with other gems of the great master
One of New York’s chamber music highlights took place on the night of 4 March 2020: Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax and Leonidas Kavakos performed together in Carnegie Hall: a magnificent combination of artists, repertoire, and the gilded setting of the Stern Auditorium. This was my first opportunity to hear Kavakos perform on the ‘Willemotte’ Stradivari of 1734, which he has now been playing for the past three years. That night I discovered anew that in Kavakos’s hands this superlative late-period violin has a voice that is truly unforgettable: dark, shimmery, and plaintively expressive.
The afterglow of the concert lingered in the green room, amid the press of well-wishers and colleagues, as Kavakos and I made plans to meet after the weekend to talk fiddles and especially to refresh my study of the ‘Willemotte’. But within days the growing Covid-19 situation had enveloped all of us; Kavakos was engrossed in delayed flights and cancelled concerts as we entered this new, long period of separation and unplanned sabbatical. That meeting proved to be the only chance I would have to re-acquaint myself with this fine instrument, at least for the next several months of lockdown.
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